The final three.
Fun. Angel comes to a painful but logical realization – that it’s unfair to tie a beautiful young girl down to a moping immortal. So he breaks up with her (at an inconvenient time, but is there ever a good one?). Buffy spends an appropriate amount of time heartbroken, then throws herself into her work and tracks down a lone psycho training hellhounds to ruin prom. Meanwhile, Xander uncovers Cordelia’s secret day job. Despite her continually hostile attitude toward him, he pays for the dress that she’s put on layaway – a lovely, albeit pathetic, gesture.
I know that the hokey ceremony at the prom, where the entire class made an award just for Buffy, should bother me more than it did. It’s such transparent wish fulfillment – in a show that’s all about wish fulfillment, giving the high school outcasts hot dates and superpowers – that I know I should feel seedy. But I don’t. Because, ultimately, Buffy has given up a lot of her normal life in order to protect Sunnydale from everything. She doesn’t get a boyfriend, she settles for a college other than the best she could get into, and all her friends are weird. So I was moved. Or maybe it’s just really effective wish fulfillment.
Are You Fucking Kidding Me?
- A hellhound that’s been trained to shred people in formal wear? A kid who wants to slaughter a gym full of promgoers because … eh, you know what, the episode isn’t even really about this guy. So I’m not mad enough to give this an AYFKM. It’s still pretty lazy, though.
- The entire episode hinges on the Precious Magic of Prom, which is a trope I’d prefer vanish from American culture as a whole and pop culture in particular. It’s one night. It’s a dance. You’ve been to dances before; you’ll go to dances again. The industry that’s been built up around this one lacklustre night in the tail end of a high school career sickens me – and I work in marketing, so I know from sickening.
All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool
- I buy into Anya’s social ineptitude. For the past several centuries, her only interaction with humans has been to toy with them. I’m not surprised she’d have a hard time telling a pleasing anecdote (“so she wished her husband’s head would explode …”).
- We knew Angel was going to show up at prom. Everyone knew. Don’t pretend you didn’t know. That being said, I’m glad the show didn’t imply that Angel and Buffy were going to get back together. You can acknowledge that you’re not meant to be with someone and still be fond of them.
- Also, though Xander paying for Cordelia’s dress is, again, pathetic, it represents a nice note of closure on their relationship. A lesser show would use this to imply that maybe they’re getting back together (I can see Aaron Sorkin doing this, for some reason). But that would be stupid. Buying someone a prom dress isn’t a way to rekindle an old romance, especially if he cheated on her and she nearly died. But it’s a great favor for a friend.
- “For god’s sake, man. She’s eighteen, and you have the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone.”
Overall Grade: Didn’t blow me away, but you can’t depict the senior year of your protagonists without having one episode at prom.
GRADUATION DAY (Parts 1 and 2)
The moment that Season 3′s been building toward since “Homecoming.” Mayor Wilkins culminates his hundred-year plan to Ascend, turning into a demon and devouring most of Sunnydale. The gang’s in for their most desperate fight yet.
Are You Fucking Kidding Me?
- What little Giles, Wesley and the Watchers know about the Ascension suggests that it’s a terrible cataclysm. Even by the standards of the terrible cataclysms the gang avert every week. And getting the inside scoop from Anya confirms this. Given the monumental stakes involved, why the fuck are the only people who can stop it – Buffy, Willow, et al – still going to school? Shouldn’t they be locked in the library 24/7, doing research and calisthenics? Shouldn’t the Watcher council send some backup?
And if the answer’s “no, it’s not a big enough threat to justify that,” then why have we spent all season building up to it? Because if Sunnydale’s in no more danger from the Ascension than they are from the Apocalypse Cult of Jhe (in “The Zeppo”) or the demon Lurconis (“Band Candy”), then that’s a supreme letdown. And if they’re in more danger, that demands a proportionally greater response. But no one seems worried that the Ascension’s coming in three days.
- Xander’s meta-consciousness regarding his role as a supporting character (“I just know there’s no way I’m getting out of this school alive”). Thankfully Whedon doesn’t pay off on this, but there’s the fear he might.
- The Mayor orders Faith to murder Professor Wirth three days before the Ascension, because Wirth is the only one who knows about the vulnerability of the Mayor’s new form. Except (A) Wirth doesn’t know, really; he’s not a demonologist, (B) as Wesley points out, his homicide only draws attention to his life and research, rather than concealing it, and (C) it’s not exactly a momentous revelation! What an obscure bit of lore – the demon’s vulnerable to massive volumes of fire. I wouldn’t have considered blowing it up with enough fertilizer to vaporize a school library unless I’d read this occluded text.
- “Guess who our commencement speaker is.” “Siegfried?” “No.” “Roy?” “No.” ARGHLEBARGHLE.
- “We have to find a spell to stop the Ascension,” Willow declares. You mean you hadn’t been trying before today? Or do you mean staking that vampire with a levitating pencil (which I’ll admit was cool) inflated your self-esteem so much that you think you can undo a century-long ritual in three days? Or are you dumb? Or – and I smell a winner – could Whedon not think of anything else for you to do for the next 44 minutes?
- “This is mutiny.” “I like to think of it as graduation.” WUT IZ THIS SYMBOLIZMS I IS NOT SURE
- “All that killing, and you’re afraid to die?” … what? How does the one follow from the other?
- Buffy feeds her blood to Angel, leading to the two of them thrashing around on the floor of the mansion. Angel grinds on top of her, while Buffy moans and crumples things (like tableware) in her hands. EXCUUZ ME I WAZ TOLD DERE’D BE A SYMBOLIZMS?
- Does the vampiric vulnerability to sunlight mean anything? Does it have to be direct sunlight, unreflected off any other surface? Because Angel wanders around the library while the gang’s getting ready for war like it’s nothing.
- For being the “key guy,” Xander doesn’t contribute a lot to the final battle. He stands and tells people when to shoot the things they’re holding. I could have done that. Have I mentioned yet that I hate the character of Xander?
- “Guys – take a moment to deal with this. We survived [...] Not the battle. High school.” UGH.
All Right, I Admit, That Was Cool
- “I’ll scream.” “Who wouldn’t?”
- The gang engages in some smart, focused problem-solving. Xander brings Anya in for debriefing. Buffy and Giles accurately deduce that the Mayor killed Professor Wirth to hide something important. Buffy learns that Angel needs a Slayer’s blood to survive and decides, without much angst, to take Faith’s. Plot, action, progress – a neat little march.
- The Mayor! Always the Mayor. “That’s a spunky little girl you’ve raised. I’m going to eat her.”
- And as dumb as the Mayor’s plan was to kill Professor Wirth, his plan to poison Angel is genius. It is, as Wesley points out, an effective way to split the gang’s limited resources.
- “Fine! You know what? I hope you die! … aren’t we going to kiss?”
- The Mayor’s been growing paternally fond of Faith since she switched sides, but it ramps up in this episode. This makes his response to her death more appropriate.
- Though I thought little of the taunts – as I think little of all Whedon dialogue – I loved the final showdown between Buffy and Faith. A classic furniture-wrecking, window-smashing evening brawl.
- The gang shows up and takes Angel to task for feeding off Buffy to save his own life. Even if she did provoke him into it, this is their logical response. Who’s going to be more crucial to stop the Ascension – the chosen Slayer, gifted with superhuman strength and speed, or a guy who can’t come out before eight-thirty?
- Though the “riddles” are hell of lame, I liked Faith passing … her Slayerness? Whichever … on to Buffy in the shared coma fantasy.
- The graduating class doffing their gowns and going to war on the Mayor. I knew it was coming, but I still got a thrill out of it. It’s so subversive.
Overall Grade: It’s an ending. So there.
# # #
Throughout this recap, I’ve been calling Whedon out for various tendencies I liked or (more often) disliked about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I realized recently, though, that it’d be unfair to lay all of that at his feet. Whedon may have been producer and show runner, but network television gets written by a committee of different writers. Maybe the “Whedonesque” style that I hated so much could be laid at the feet of a few delinquents.
So I used Wikipedia and my prior recaps to search for any trends. Below find a list of each episode and its credited writer.
Episodes I Loved
“Faith, Hope and Trick” (David Greenwalt)
“Band Candy” (Jane Espenson)
“The Wish” (Marti Noxon)
“Consequences” (Marti Noxon)
“Doppelgangland” (Joss Whedon)
“Choices” (David Fury)
Episodes I Liked
“Homecoming” (David Greenwalt)
“Helpless” (David Fury)
“The Zeppo” (Dan Vebber)
“Beauty and the Beasts” (Marti Noxon)
“Earshot” (Jane Espenson)
Episodes I Tolerated
“Revelations” (Douglas Petrie)
“Lovers Walk” (Dan Vebber)
“Gingerbread” (Jane Espenson)
“Bad Girls” (Douglas Petrie)
“The Prom” (Marti Noxon)
“Graduation Day” (Joss Whedon)
Episodes I Hated
“Anne” (Joss Whedon)
“Dead Man’s Party” (Marti Noxon)
“Amends” (Joss Whedon)
“Enemies” (Douglas Petrie)
So, no clear rules but several obvious tendencies:
- I am more likely to hate an episode written by Joss Whedon, selected at random, than I am to tolerate or love it.
- I am more likely to like or love a Marti Noxon episode than to tolerate or hate it.
- Jane Espenson’s good, too.
- Every writer has at least a chance of overcooking the roast, except apparently David Greenwalt or David Fury. The Davids can do no wrong.
And this half-assed statistical analysis neatly wraps up the theme I’ve been addressing since June: I just don’t like Joss Whedon. He’s creative. He comes up with these fantastic worlds – cowboys in space! secret agents with replaceable personalities! high school kids fighting vampires! – that excite you just by hearing about them. And then he fails to deliver in any way that would engage me. I don’t find anything worth emulating in his heroes; I don’t find the gags he writes funny or the stirring speeches stirring; and the moral of each story, when it’s not ham-handed, is just as likely to offend me as instruct me. He’s a great producer and a mediocre writer.
I gave him a fair shake. But when a given season of his seminal work – voted by his fans to be the one to watch – is just as likely to delight me as it is to bore or annoy me, that’s too random a craps shoot for me to bet on. I have better shows to watch.
Thank you for indulging me while I nitpicked at your idol. If you want to do the same with The Wire or Mad Men or The Prisoner, I’ll sit on my hands.